Kayaking down I-20

Over the weekend I had the opportunity to visit Pensacola Beach, Florida. Stay away. It’s not that its a bad place, of course. It’s just that, several years back it was a pretty laid back community and not very busy. You could go out to the beach and for 50 yards in either direction there was no one there (take that, Myrtle Beach!).

But, since the BP spill a few years back, part of their lawsuit was an advertisement campaign that showed people what a great place Pensacola was to visit. Now, its slightly more crowded. Not nearly as bad as some other beaches (take that, Myrtle Beach!) but busier than it once was.

My child was down there visiting relatives, and I had to go pick her up. I have been interested in kayaking for a little while, especially while talking with some other hikers.

See, hiking in the south in the summer just sucks. I’m NOT a summer hiker. BUT – boating gives you an alternative. You can trade fighting off ticks, poison ivy, and rattlesnakes for fighting off mosquitos, water moccasins, and the brain-eating amoeba. Plus, you’re guaranteed to have a ready supply of water around you at all times. So, I asked a few people about boats, and even considered getting one of those cheapy walmart Kayaks at one point. I asked my father where he gained his knowledge of boats, and what would be a good starting place, since he had an ocean kayak.

He said, in a nutshell “You can take mine”. It’s only a 10 hour drive to Pensacola from my house, so we headed down there, not only to pick up the kid (who stays with grandpa a little bit every summer), but to get a boat. I had Friday and Monday off, so 10 hours in the car either way, for 2 days at a great beach with family and a free place to stay, was well worth it. It was hot. Damn Hot. I just got back from Denver, and Pensacola was about the same temperature but more humid. So it felt hot. And there were a lot less people smoking weed in Pensacola.

My daughter said that the previous week there were a lot of jellyfish, but this week the jellyfish were gone and the seaweed had come in. Thus the water looked REALLY green, and it felt like swimming through a big glass of extra-pulp orange juice. But the water was nice and cool.

Some people preferred to stay out of the water. Stand-up paddle boarding is very popular here, even on the ocean. The two days we were there, the water was really calm, like a nice lake, except right by the shore line where there were small 1-2 foot waves. As always, we looked for shark teeth but found squat.

The usual white beaches were tinged with green snot. The best way to get away from the seaweed was to go out to the sandbar, the light green section at the far right of the picture below, where the water was almost clear. It was a bit of a swim, not too bad but still – its the ocean and there are sharks and risk of rip currents, so we came back in pretty quickly.

So, after discussing and planning the boat move for two days, we finally got the thing onto the car and strapped it down. If you’ve never seen an engineer working out a problem in front of you, its an interesting experience. We thought about aerodynamics, drag, where the physics would be acting on the car and finally came up with a system.

Then we realized the suitcases wouldn’t go in the back since we couldn’t raise the tailgate. I have a Toyota Rav-4 with a lift gate with a weird spoiler thing on it. Maybe its a roof for the back window, I don’t know, but  it stuck up too far to raise the rear gate with the Kayak on the car. We got everything situated and it looked really strange. The Kayak itself is an 18 foot tandem touring boat, designed for rivers and even the ocean, I think. It’s only 73 pounds, but a bit unwieldy for one person. We wound up stuffing the suitcases and other beach detritus into the car through the back seat.

Thanks to the added drag and giant boat on the car acting like some weird sail, I had to drive slower than normal. The trip home took 13 hours (with a 1 hour mandatory stop at Olive Garden for late lunch and re-trimming the boat and straps) That’s a LONG time to be in a car, but thanks to the slower drive I saved on some gas, I think. The car just started getting squirrely above 70mph. For the first time, ever, I did the speed limit the whole way home.

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Once home, getting the boat off the car proved a bit more of a challenge, without my father to help. I wound up backing up to the back porch, which, incidentally, is as high as the roof of the car. I laid an extension ladder from the top step of the porch to the car, Mount Everest Sherpa Style. After throwing a blanket over the ladder, I simply slid the boat off onto the porch. It needs a little work, but the parts should all be here this weekend.

The only issue left: I can’t take the porch with me to the lake. I’m designing a wood rack with hinged extensions so I can fold out a simple ramp, push the boat onto the car, and then remove and fold the ramp by pulling hinge pins. The blue below is the car luggage rack. Hopefully this weekend will be a good time to work all of this out. I was supposed to go hiking, but its going to be either: Hot as Balls, or: Raining. Either one is not great for hiking, so it looks like I’ll be playing engineer a bit myself.

rack

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Smuggling is hard.

The wife and I just got back from a ten day cruise in the Caribbean, which explains why I haven’t been on here that much. We got the Facebook cruise package but it doesn’t allow anything but face booking and instakikagram and sending twits.

One of the discussions that seems to dominate cruise boards is the smuggling of liquor on board the ships. There are people staunchly entrenched on both sides of the argument.

First, let me say, I was on Carnival, the WalMart of the cruise industry. I made the mistake of saying that on a cruise board on Facebook, and had to leave the group. People get REALLY testy over little things. Carnival isn’t bad, they’re fun ships, they go to neat places, but they’re the cheapest. Your experience smuggling liquor on board may differ based on how your cruise line does stuff.

People on the “just buy on board” side have some valid arguments. The ship has to make money. They supplement their low prices by overcharging for drinks, shore excursions, and taking suckers from their money in the “Cancer Club” casino. I agree, they have to make extra money. I’ll give them that one. Disney Cruise Line, for example, used to allow you to bring your own liquor on board, and Disney costs twice as much for essentially the same service: Boat goes to islands. That practice has just stopped, probably to make more money. Carnival sells “Soda Cards” too, so you can get unlimited soft drinks at $6 a day instead of paying $2 a drink.

They offer the “Cheers Program”, 15 drinks a day for the price of $50 per cruise day, but everyone over 21 in your cabin has to buy the program if anyone in your cabin wants it. $50 a day for two adults is $1000 on a 10 day cruise. Given cruise ship drink prices, drinking $1,000 during a cruise without the card is certainly a possibility, especially for the hard-core alcoholics out there (you know the ones – they show up drunk to the muster drill because they’ve been on the boat for 3 hours, why not get plastered by 3pm?). But then there are people that just want to enjoy a drink or two every now and then. The cruise line isn’t making much of anything from us, but $15 for a margarita is completely insane pricing.

There’s another benefit to having control over liquor. If someone starts becoming an obnoxious drunk, the ship’s bartenders can cut them off. If they have booze in their room, they can continue drinking and be a hazard to others.

So, some people smuggle, whether its to save money, or just to get away with it.

Fire in the Sky
Fire in the Sky

Smuggling on ships has existed forever, but people are getting sneakier about it.

Recently Carnival stopped allowing guests to bring bottled water or soda on board the ship. Why? Because someone figured out a way to get the caps off water bottles without breaking that security ring seal at the base, and was filling water bottles with clear liquor. So, don’t even think about it. Your water bottles will get tossed when you go through security. The only exception is distilled water for CPAP machines, with a doctor’s note.

The ships x-ray luggage coming on board. Some people have been using Rum Runner flasks, which are basically screw-top plastic bags they can put into their luggage. Sometimes they make it through, sometimes they don’t. There are plenty of youtube videos out there about do’s and don’ts. If you’ve never taken a cruise, you might not understand how rough they get with your luggage. Bags get pretty banged up, I wonder how many burst Rum Runners and soaked clothes make it to cabins? If the ship finds your liquor in your suitcase, they’ll take it and throw it out. I’d think the x-ray people would be more inclined to poke a pinhole in the bags and send them through, just out of spite.

The next trick people discovered was the “liquor in the wine bottle”. This has a higher chance of success than some methods. Open your favorite wine bottle, pour out the wine, and fill it with booze. Then go to a wine hobby store and buy yourself a corker, some corks, and a shrink cap. Use a dark color wine bottle and some food coloring in your booze and your halfway there.

But – the ships are getting wise to this and the employees are starting to recognize the shrink wraps. Certain brands are distinctive, and they may take your wine bottle if they don’t believe you. The thing is, you have to carry it on, so they can question you about it it they think you’re up to something. As an experiment, on my recent trip I took a bottle of wine. They didn’t even ask me about it, they sent it through the x-ray and waved me on. I’m wondering if eventually it will be possible that x-rays can be programmed to recognize different density liquids. Wine is only 15% alcohol (30 proof), much denser than your Bacardi 151 with food coloring. Could an x-ray pick this up and alert the operator? Time will tell.

But, the simplest way to smuggle seems to be just walk on with it. In St. Kitts last year, we went to a store with several mini bottles of local rums in a handmade little dyed cloth bag. I bought them and wasn’t even asked to turn them in when I got back on the ship. Same thing happened to my friends this trip. It’s like they overlook small amounts of mini-bottles. The other option would be just to buy a small 200ml bottle in port, stick it in your pocket and walk through the metal detector. No metal, no problem. Just hope they don’t pat you down.

On a lot of ships, they have a liquor take-up area right inside when you come back from port. Security screens you, X-rays your stuff, and points to the liquor table. They take your booze, label it, and you hope to see it again on the last night while you’re packing. Here’s where you could get REALLY sneaky, if you’re good. You need some advance planning and a partner. It helps if the gangway is busy, with people both coming and going from the ship.

Buy two bottles of liquor. Make sure they’re in two separate bags. have two other shopping bags from port (four bags total), preferably pretty much the same color. Go through the security line with your partner, where they have two shopping bags and you have two bags of liquor. The booze nazis will point you towards the liquor take-up area. Get in line with your partner, and say to them in a normal voice so others in line can hear, “There’s no use for you to wait here too, go on upstairs, I’ll do this.” Then swap one set of bags, so you have a bottle and they have a bottle. They get out of line and go upstairs, and you deposit your bottle in the safe hands of the ship.

Have fun, and try not to get arrested.